Honey, Do You Love Me?

By , Cleveland Hts, OH
Our favorite game, my husband’s and mine, was a silly camp game. The game was this: all of the campers would sit in a circle, or something like a circle, surrounding one camper who would sit in the middle. This camper would be asker, and whoever he or she chose, the answerer. The asker would go up to anyone and in the silliest way possible ask the question, “Honey, do you love me?” The camper could say it slowly, quickly, could puff out his or her cheeks or turn his or her face upside down, anything to provoke a laugh. The person who was asked would have to answer, without smiling even the tiniest bit, “honey, I love you, but I just can’t smile.” If this, almost impossible, feat was accomplished, the asker would move onto the next victim, until even the faintest hint of a smile appeared, and then the asker and the answerer would switch places. Repeat. I first met him at camp, playing this game. He sat in front of me, almost touching, and looked deep into my eyes, without blinking, and said in the saddest and most depressed voice I had ever heard, “Honey, do you… love me?” A smile creped across my face, I couldn’t help it. I tried my hardest, bit my cheeks, scrunched my eyes together, and tried to turn my head away to hide it. He leaned back, his stance as smug as could be. He gestured haughtily for me to switch places with a carefree wave of his hand. I pushed past him, stomped to the middle of the circle, and plopped down, ignoring him. Every summer he would show up, and we would play the same game. And every single time I would not be able to help that little smile from skulking onto my face, no matter how hard I tried. I tried ignoring him, keeping a cool distance. I tried glaring at him, to make him too scared to ask me. But nothing worked, no trick, or face I made could stop me from slightly grinning. And so the tradition continued, as we got older, as we grew too old to play the game we so loved, we still played it, again and again. We still played. Every day coming home from work, when I would complain on and on about the ways people had annoyed me that day, he would give me that same look, ask me that same question, and I would smile that same, reluctant smile as I always have.

It is one of those days, one of those perfect days in the fall, the only one of its kind. The sun is out, pouring its light through the colorful leaves, creating a painting on the ground. The weather is crisp, but at the same time, warm; a slight breeze ruffles the curtains of the bedroom window, allowing me a glimpse of the upcoming day. Usually fall days annoy me. They are not really warm, but not really cold either. The sun is slightly out, but still hidden behind clouds. Their state of neither-ness irritates me. But this day, this day seems as though it is finally making a decision. He is already up, getting ready for another day of work. I walk down the stairs, almost not aware of them beneath my feet. A yawn escapes my lips as my hands stretch far above my head. He grabs one, brings it down, and guides me to the coffee pot, my savior. The bitter smell wafts up my nose, and my brain finally starts to function. I slam my chipped mug down on the counter in front of him and glare at him until he pours me some of my sacred sustenance. He laughs at me, eyes crinkling up and mouth smug. My crankiness is apparently adorable. He chatters lightly, keeping a constant line of conversation going. I respond with yes, no, or I don’t know. He mentions going to the World Trade Center to drop some papers off to his doctor, I think nothing of it. Pretty soon, after exhausting all possible conversation topics, he kisses my cheek gently, laughs slightly at my sour expression, and walks jauntily out the door, not a care in the world. He was born in the wrong century. He belongs where politeness and kindness are the norm, where happiness lifts up the world, of course, not that our world has ever been truly happy. I can picture him, a light gray suit, tipping his hat to passer byes, helping a woman out of her carriage, holding her hand to make sure she does not fall. I would not be that woman; I would not deserve that common courtesy.

I call work, to see if there is a job, anything at all I can do to help out. None. I sit down and put my feet up on the wooden coffee table, worn from use. There is a house of cards lying in front of me. The structures making up the house became more and more intricate as I look higher, creating spindling towers, even an entire world, just beyond my grasp. Instead of a house, I see a castle. There seem to be turrets, maybe even a drawbridge. I imagine people in there, bustling around not a care about anything greater, not imagining that the removal of a single, seemingly inconsequential card could result in the destruction of their entire world. May that fact also hold true for our society? Is it possible that we may have our own card, that if pulled could bring down our own nation? Maybe, maybe not. The house was done by my husband, he set it up to show our nephews when they come for a visit. They love trying to duplicate his efforts, to take on the task of making something out of nothing. But destroying is easier than creating, so all of my husband’s work comes tumbling down. But this one survived, a monument demonstrating that youth can restrain from demolishing even if constructing is not yet their strongest suit. I cross my legs, gently jostling the table, the slight movement sending the cards flying. They float all around, creating a whirlwind of color and paper. The small world collapses; it is no more. All that is left is the memory imprinted in my mind, the vivid picture of the miniature castle. I can see the image clearly, how it was before it fell, before I destroyed it. It just shows how much easier blotting out is than creating, why my nephews would rather spend their time having fun and making a mess, than actually accomplish anything.
I groan as I drop on my hands and knees to pick up the clutter. There are cards all over the floor, covering it completely. It looks like modern art; a sculpture that I would think is interesting, but not really get. A piece of art that probably has some deeper meaning that I don’t have the ability to see, that I cannot comprehend. I pick up all of the cards. The colors are so repetitive: black, red, black, red, red, red, black, on and on and on. The sharp blast of the phone ring pierced my ears and I go to grab it from the kitchen. It must be just a solicitor. We don’t have caller Id, something I have begged to invest in. Maybe then I won’t have to spend so much time fending off sales peoples’ attack. They treat their products like shiny new toys, and us like children. As if the only way to keep us interested is to explain very slowly and clearly, but in an obnoxiously excited voice so that we know exactly what the merchandise is, and we want to buy it right away. I pick up the phone, expecting a perky nuisance that I will have waste precious time trying to get rid of. But there is no disgustingly animated sales person, it is just my husband. A smile creeps onto my face, the first one of the day. I expect him to have just called me to tell me he’s going to be late, or something trivial like that. His voice is monotone, as if all of the life was sucked out of it and all that is calling me is a shell; as if he is just a shadow, a glimmer of his true self. I cannot understand what he is saying as I slide onto the cold, hard tile floor, my back against the wall. The words, although so simple separately, once put together lose all meaning. I try every word. I. The word refers to him. Am. A verb meaning to be. Going. This part of the sentence explains what is happening soon. To. Part of the infinitive of the next verb. Die. I am lost. I have forgotten the meaning of the last word. I am going to die. The phrase is repeating again and again in my head, a broken record. He says my name; a little more life is pushed into his voice. His worry is tangible. The only thought that passes through my mind is that his worry is ridiculous. I am safe, at home. I should be worrying about him, but I can’t. I can’t feel anything other than my body freezing over, knowing that if I move I will shatter into a million pieces, never to be put back together again. Just like Humpty Dumpty. And I am going to fall off my own wall if I find the meaning of the words that came out his mouth. I jolt out of my stupor; the urgency in his tone finally brings me back from the distant land where everything still makes sense. I reluctantly tell him that I am listening, although I cannot be sure if I actually will understand the words that he says. He explains his situation slowly, as if he knows that if he doesn’t, the words will jumble in my mind creating an unsolvable puzzle. A puzzle that, even if I want to, I cannot put the pieces together to make sense once again.
He tells me about the attack, about the horrible act that is going to take his life. He is stuck, trapped in one of the top floors of the World Trade Center. I can hear the other screaming people trapped with him, some moaning, some crying. I try to tune them out, to spend my last minutes with him soaking in his voice. A plane hit the building, but he says he doesn’t know anything else, that there is no way to find out. He tells me he can see the sobbing people on the street being evacuated. They are screaming, fighting, trying to save the ones they love. He is watching this all from above, saying that he feels like a god, watching over the fates of the tiny mortals, their problems oh so insignificant. And then he is brought back to the thought that he is also one of those mortals, and all mortals die. Some sooner than others. My hand leaps up to my face, I expect tears to fall, but none do. My cheeks are as dry as a blistering summer day, but I feel as if I could cry any minute. My throat is tight, and breathing has become unbearably difficult. Maybe I should just stop, just stop breathing. Maybe then I could focus on something other than the rasp of air fighting to make its way down my throat. I feel the walls of our little house closing in on me, entrapping me in my dread. He is still talking, but not about anything in particular. He seems to be avoiding difficult topics, thinking that it will make everything better. Isn’t it always that way? People think that evasion will make terror and fears disappear, they reason that if you can’t see something, it isn’t true. I shake my tearless face, and in all my pain I can’t help myself from hitting my closed fist against the floor. I don’t know how he can pretend; how can he hold all of his emotions to himself. I wonder if holding in those emotions is bad for you, if all the pent up feelings can eventually explode. I bet they can, I bet the fenced in emotions can kill you, if a sudden rush of them was to come on.
Thoughts are flitting through my mind, faster than lightning. I cannot hold onto a single one. They flick into my head, than run away just as quickly. They are all becoming muddled and mixed together so that I cannot distinguish one from another. I cannot hold onto the sound of his voice, and I my breathing, even though so painful, begins to quicken.
“Charlie.” I say his name, just his name. He stops his incessant talking and seems to look at me. I can feel his gaze, even though we are so far apart, steadily burning into me. I know that that last imprint, the left over feeling of the burn, will be the only part of him left for me, the rest torn apart by the world. I can’t accept it. He has to come home; he has to live. But he knows he won’t. So he does the only thing that will ever allow me to let go: He asks me the question, the question from our childhood that has taken on a secret meaning for us. It means “I will always be here for you”.
“Honey,” He starts slowly, his tone hoarse, and in pain. “Do you love me?”
For the first time in my entire life, the smile does not creep onto my face; I cannot, no matter how hard I try, force myself to feel any happiness, any sense of joy. I look down to the tile floor, glare it at, and say, sealing his fate…
“Honey, I love you, but,” my voice chokes up. “I just can’t,” the tears finally start to flow. “Smile.”





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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

spackle16 said...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm
whoa! the ending was so moving! i loved this!
 
SingleRose said...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm
This was amazing! I loved how you tied it all together! Love love love!
 
HotNerd2015 said...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm
Wow! you've done a great job to tackle somthing in our american history that is still fresh and still hurts when talked about. though when it happened i was very young, not even five, i feel the weight of what happened. it's sad to think about. you've done a fantastic job at getting the emotion of the twin towers into the article and i loved the before thought and how that tied into the end. tears are flowing. very exceptional
 
SingleRose replied...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm
Same. I was around 5 or 6 when it happened. But I still want to cry when I think about it, and I bawl my eyes out every time they show something about it on TV. I can only remember bits and pieces of when I was actually, but it was such a horrific time in history :(
This is a great piece!
 
Artsygirl said...
Jul. 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm
This was so powerful. I totally almost cried.*gets out tissue box*
 
Krikette This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm
Oh my! What a powerful ending. This story was very well written and full of emotion. I nearly cried. Great job!
 
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